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George Greenough (surfer)

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George Greenough

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George Greenough (born 1941) is an influential surfer from the 60’s and 70’s for his designs and work in film, board design, fin characteristics, and other creations for the aquatic medium. Greenough's and McTavish's contributions to developing the shortboards resulted in a wave of new advancements in surfing technology and shapes used to design boards.


George greenough mat surfing

Early life

George Greenough was born 1941 in Santa Barbara, California to a wealthy family that had connections to railroad industry; nephew by way of marriage to the opera star Beverly Sills, and also a direct descendent of the sculptor Horatio Greenough, who sculpted a massive marble statue of George Washington which was placed in the capitol Rotunda. At the age of ten he had undergone open heart surgery and was known as a true character. “… a thin-faced, narrow shouldered scion… always shoeless, often shirt-less, resin-stained Levis clamped onto his nonexistent hips with a length of rope, stringy blonde hair cut straight across at eyebrow level and flapping down over his ears.” Greenough was not known to be in the spotlight surfing over-crowded waves butting shoulders with everyone else that could surf; instead would prefer to find solitude in northern Hollister Ranch or surf Rincon at dusk to avoid the crowds. In 1964 Greenough traveled to Australia and would trade back and forth between Santa Barbara and his new home for some time.

Surfing influence

Greenough is credited for the design of the modern surf fin as well as with influencing modern surfing’s radical ‘progressive’ turning in the pocket and deep barrel approach. The newer shortboards were built to specifically copy the same style of banking turns, fast burning down the line attitude that Greenough was known for. Greenough started to shape his first boards out of balsa wood in his high school wood shop. He started out as a stand-up surfer in the 50’s but swapped out for switching between kneeboarding and an air inflated mattress in 1961; according to Greenough, these gave him a heightened sense of speed that came from a lowered body position. The famous ‘spoon’ board was created in 1961-“a blunt-nosed balsa kneeboard, 5 feet long and 23 inches wide, with a dished-out midsection and tail that slimmed down to a mere half-inch thickness.” He switched out the normal fin at the time, a massive 10 inch protrusion, with a smaller (almost by a third) flexible swept-back model he had traced directly from a dorsal fin of a dolphin. This design had an effect of reducing the amount of drag and increased the handling of the board by a considerable margin. the new fin was considered one of the most elegant and functional piece of equipment to come out of this generation of surfing, the next generation of surfboard fin, which Greenough called a “high aspect ratio fin”, took around three years to actually become popular.

In 1964 Greenough traveled to Australia and ended up impressing the locals by showing them his new school wave riding style blending speed, power, and grace; drawing sharp turns and deep barrel rides. He influenced the likes of Nat Young into using Greenough’s style of surfing fin which he used to win the 1966 world surfing championships in San Diego California ushering in a new era in surfing in which the Australians were seen to emerge as a dominant surfing country. “The greatest surfer in the world today,” is what Young described Greenough back then. After the visit to Australia, Greenough shaped a board which he explained as the next step in the progression of surfing, “a fish moves when he swims… so why not make a whole board that moves when it’s on a wave?” what he created was a board that had multiple layers of fiberglass shaped just like the old balsa kneeboards he rode, a glued on ridge of polyurethane foam ontop of the deck near the rails and nose with the back end of the board entirely made of fiberglass; and the final piece to the board was his signature flex-fin to top off the board. the board was so small and light that it was not very good in small surf; only in big surf did the board show it’s true excellence and allowed Greenough to maneuver on the wave with a new school style, more power and speed than previous designs, “Greenough was riding like a visitor from ten years in surfing’s future. He cranked out bottom turns where his board tilted up almost 90 degrees…” In 1966 Greenough made his second board which he nicknamed ‘velo’ for velocity.


Greenough has made multiple films in his career; he would swim out into the surf and get pictures and film looking from the inside of the barrel looking out. This part of the wave, or ‘barrel-vision’ was considered the next step in progression in surfing.His film THE INNERMOST LIMITS OF PURE FUN, was shot using a massive 28 pound camera with a water-proof housing strapped onto his shoulder which he used to show the world the inside of a wave. His film was considered so inspiring that entire audiences would holler and shout for the duration of the movie.The film caught the attention of a band called Pink Floyd which donated music for Greenough’s next film Crystal Voyager and they also used the film as a backdrop for their concerts.

Coca-Cola also used some of Greenough’s barrel videos in a T.V. add in 1975. Part of Crystal Voyagers was shot at ten times the normal speed which showed a continuous flow of intensely detailed images of water droplets hitting the lens, all moving in a trance-like dance in motion with the barrel. Another project that Greenough worked on in recent decade was DOLPHIN Glide in which he uses a special ski he created to follow their motions throughout the water.


Greenough, while tinkering with board designs, would also try some experimenting in boat hull design. While filming Dolphin Glide, Greenough had made a jet-ski type watercraft which he used to capture the photography. His second variation known as a GARC (Greenough Advanced Rescue Craft) was a product of this tinkering. The garc was based on a rescue boat hull designed by Greenough. Currently they are being made by MAPC (maritime applied physics corporation) which holds the patents for the craft. The jet-ski look-alike is a more rugged and stable version with a design that can be launched in the waves or by an aircraft. The development of the open transom and the stern tongue make it possible for rescues without having to actual lift the person who’s in trouble out of the water. It holds four people and will be used by the United States NAVY, Coast Guard, and National Guard.


George Greenough (surfer) Wikipedia

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